FrameWORK: Open Space and Conservation
Our FrameWORK series on the Los Angeles General Plan Framework Element is intended to introduce you to the citywide document that lays down the guiding principles for how Los Angeles will develop in the years ahead. In this article, we’ll be familiarizing you with the Framework’s Open Space and Conservation Chapter (Chapter 6).
The purpose of this chapter is to provide a path to manage and conserve Los Angeles’s open space resources and address the outdoor recreation needs of the City’s residents. You may also want to take a look at the Open Space Element and the Conservation Element of the Los Angeles General Plan for additional detail. The Framework’s Open Space and Conservation Chapter works in conjunction with the two elements. The Open Space Element provides extensive Open Space policies, programs, standards and criteria. The Conservation Element addresses conservation, protection, development, utilization, and reclamation of natural resources.
The Framework’s Open Space and Conservation Chapter employs a broad definition for open space. Open Space is considered by the chapter to be both publicly- and privately- owned properties that are unimproved and used for the preservation of natural resources, managed production of resources, outdoor recreation, and protection of life and property due to natural hazards. This broad definition also allows the Chapter to explore unconventional ways of increasing open space in communities that lack this resource.
Los Angeles is surrounded by important open spaces such as the Pacific Ocean; Baldwin Hills; and the San Gabriel, Santa Susana, and the Santa Monica Mountains. However, it is critical that we maintain and increase the variety of open space and recreational activities in the City and create an extensive, highly-interconnected Citywide Greenways Network. We’ll go into further detail on the Citywide Greenways Network in the Outdoor Recreation section further below. First, we’ll highlight some of the key issues the City seeks to resolve:
1. Open space conservation and development are often competing goals.
The Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning has created a network of Significant Ecological Areas to conserve areas with rare or unique biological resources that are critical to the maintenance of wildlife, are relatively undisturbed by development, or serve as natural linkages. Figure 1 demonstrates the location of the Significant Ecological Areas. It is important that the City conserve these ecologically and aesthetically important areas and limit encroachment of urban development upon them. The Resource Conservation and Management section of the Framework’s Open Space and Conservation Chapter goes into more detail.
2.There is a deficiency of open space in the City.
As the City is largely built-out, there is a reduced likelihood of creating new large regional parks, such as Griffith Park. Even so, the City must still address the lack of open space in several communities and explore unconventional solutions. As mentioned in the Plan for a Healthy LA, the accepted standard for adequate park space is 3 acres per 1,000 residents. While Los Angeles averages 8.9 acres per 1,000 residents, this acreage is not dispersed equitably. There are areas such as Boyle Heights, South Los Angeles, Downtown LA, Mid-Wilshire, parts of the San Fernando Valley, and others that have a significant lack of open space. This is illustrated in the Significant Ecological Areas and Coastal Resource Areas Policy Map (Figure 9.3). To address this issue, the City’s 35 Community Plans include policies and programs to preserve and increase the amount of open space, including attention to park-poor areas, and improved linkages and connections to open space. The Department of Parks and Recreation has been implementing the 50 Parks Initiative to increase the number of parks and facilities available across the City, with a specific focus on the neighborhoods that lack sufficient open space. In addition, the Department of City Planning and the Department of Parks and Recreation have been working to update the Parks Fee Program and the Public Recreation Plan to address the same concern. The Parks Fee Program requires developers to pay impact fees on new residential units that can be used to acquire and develop new park and recreational facilities. The program would also allow fees to be utilized for a broader range of park types, as discussed in the fifth key issue below.
3.The Los Angeles River presents numerous opportunities for enhancing the City’s open space network.
The Framework proposes that the Los Angeles River and its tributaries become the spine of the Citywide Greenways Network. To reach this goal, the City adopted the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan in 2007 and the Los Angeles River Improvement Overlay (RIO) District in 2014 to directly capitalize on this opportunity.
4.Park acquisition is limited due to existing patterns of development and lack of funding.
The availability of funds to acquire or improve open spaces is partly based on local development activities. As there are some neighborhoods with low to no development activity, there may be a lack of resources to acquire park space, sometimes resulting in insufficient open space in communities with the greatest need. As mentioned previously, the City has been updating the Parks Fee Program to increase local funds for open space and recreational facilities, the Public Recreation Plan to provide a basis for satisfying the needs of the City, and the Department of Recreation and Parks has been implementing the 50 Parks Initiative to increase the number of parks and recreation facilities. All three projects give priority to presently underserved areas of the City which have the greatest need for recreational sites and facilities.
5.Park standards do not reflect current conditions and needs.
As the availability of open space is limited, the City must explore additional types of open spaces that could benefit the community. The Department of City Planning, in conjunction with the Department of Recreation and Parks, are revising the Public Recreation Plan to provide the City with a flexible and broad range of options on how park expenditures can be spent across the City. The park and recreation types include but are not limited to mini, neighborhood, community and regional recreation sites, as well as green alleys and linear parks. Considering that community needs may change with time, the Public Recreation Plan is to be regularly revised.
It is the responsibility of the Open Space Element and the Framework’s Open Space and Conservation Chapter to analyze these challenges and present a strategic plan for an integrated, citywide, public and private open space system that serves, and is accessible by, the City’s population and is unthreatened by encroachment from other land uses. To achieve this, the chapter is divided into five sections, each containing a number of objectives and policies. The five sections are detailed below.
Resource Conservation and Management
The City is committed to protecting natural settings from encroachment of urban development, allowing the natural resources to contribute to the sustainability of the region. Part of this strategy includes preserving habitat linkages, natural viewsheds, and County-designated Significant Ecological Areas. In addition, the Framework suggests that emphasis should be placed on conserving and managing the undeveloped portions of the City’s watersheds and encouraging an increase of open space where opportunities exist.
The Framework calls for the maximizing of the City’s existing open space network and recreation facilities by enhancing those facilities and providing connections to other open spaces throughout the City. Critical to this objective is the Citywide Greenways Network.
The Citywide Greenways Network is composed of three levels: regional, community, and neighborhood. While the levels vary in scale, they are all equally important. The regional component is formed by the beaches, the mountains, the Los Angeles River system, plus the rail lines and utility corridors, which may serve a dual-purpose, where feasible, to connect various adjacent neighborhoods. The community component is formed by community and neighborhood parks, which may be connected by walking and hiking trails and bike paths while the local component is formed by pedestrian-oriented streets, open space within school sites, small parks, and community gardens. Please read the Framework’s Open Space and Conservation Chapter for further detail on the Citywide Greenways Network.
As equestrian resources are plentiful in the City, the Framework also calls for protecting these resources and maintaining safe trail linkages in major public open spaces such as Hansen Dam; Sepulveda Basin; Griffith Park; the San Gabriel, Santa Monica, and Santa Susana Mountains; and the Simi Hills. The Open Space Element of the General Plan delves into additional detail on outdoor recreation. The equestrian and hiking trails are promoted through the Major Equestrian and Hiking Trails Plan and the Rim of the Valley Trail Corridor Master Plan. The Rim of the Valley Trail, as an example, is implemented by several Community Plans along the Rim of the Valley Trail Corridor, including the Chatsworth-Porter Ranch, Granada Hills-Knollwood, Sylmar, and Sunland-Tujunga-Lake View Terrace-Shadow Hills-East La Tuna Canyon Community Plans, among others. The implementation programs identify the trail locations and require adjacent projects to develop and/or connect the trail system, where feasible. In addition, the National Park Service (NPS) is currently studying the feasibility of expanding the Santa Monica Recreational Area and implementing portions of the Rim of the Valley Trail that traverse NPS boundaries.
Various areas of the City are more susceptible to environmental hazards, such as flooding and landslides. To minimize these environmental risks to the public, the City seeks to preserve the high-risk areas as open space and utilize development standards to ensure that such spaces and facilities are as safe as possible.
It is critical that open spaces contribute positively to the stability and identity of the communities and neighborhoods in which they are located or through which they pass. For this reason, the Framework calls for open space and recreation facilities that are distributed throughout the City. While some areas of the City have an appropriate amount of these resources, the City must address a deficiency in open space in other areas of the City, such as South Los Angeles. To address this concern, the City is committed to promoting pedestrian streets, community gardens, shared school-fields, and privately-owned commercial open spaces, as well as linear open spaces along drainage channels and unused railroad tracks. In addition, the Framework includes policies to heal neighborhoods divided by freeways, through the acquisition and development of air rights over freeways, which could be improved as neighborhood recreation resources. Of course, any expansion of open space will be responsive to the needs and wishes of the City’s residents through their involvement in the selection and design of open space.
The Framework includes policies to provide adequate funding for open space resource management and development. Such policies include improvement districts, open space incentives, and linkages with air quality mandates, water reclamation needs, among others. As mentioned previously, the City is also in the process of updating the Parks Fee Program as a way to increase funding and facilitate an increase in open space access citywide.
WHERE re:code LA COMES IN
The Zoning Code Evaluation Report prepared as part of re:code LA identifies a number of recommendations to improve the community’s health through greener, more resilient development. These recommendations include implementing both the Plan for a Healthy Los Angeles policies and the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan. Both documents encourage the inclusion of design standards to create healthier places with improved opportunities to walk, bike and lead to a healthier lifestyle. As an initial step, the City has developed the Los Angeles River Improvement Overlay (RIO) District. The RIO is a new supplemental use district that establishes landscape, urban design and noise standards for all projects located within a RIO district. In addition, the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan calls for design standards to connect the neighborhoods to the LA River and strengthen the identity of the neighborhoods. This topic of design and identity is further discussed in a previous article on the Framework’s Urban Form and Neighborhood Design Chapter. All the policies and programs discussed in this article will be carried forward under re:code LA, including the Parks Fee Program, which is meant to acquire and develop new park and recreational facilities. The re:code LA team has also been exploring mechanisms to provide open space and recreational facilities as public benefits. Please feel free to provide any feedback on these open space and conservation topics on our MapIt, MarkUp, contact page or in the comment section below this article. We look forward to your comments!
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